The colón(es) is the local currency, although the US dollar is widely used, especially in hotels and restaurants.
The colón is divided into 100 céntimos. Notes come in denominations of 50, 100, 1000, 2000, 5000 and 10000; coins in 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100.
We would advise you to bring currency in US dollars. Check with your travel insurance provider on how much you are covered for (it is usually in the region of £200-£250) and only carry as much US dollars cash as you feel comfortable with.
Most hotels have safes.
It is a good idea to change a small amount of dollars into colónes on arrival at the airport in San José for lunch, snacks and souvenirs.
Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted in the main tourist areas, with Visa and MasterCard being the easiest to use. All car rental agencies accept cards.
ATMs are becoming increasingly more widespread and can be found in most tourist areas.
The Visa Plus network is the standard, but machines on the Cirrus network, which accept most foreign ATM cards, can be found in San José and in larger towns. Some ATMs will dispense US dollars. Note that some machines (eg at Banco Nacional) will only accept cards held by their own customers.
Some hotels might charge a 7% fee for using credit cards, in addition to government and service taxes. Check their policies and prices carefully.
Although credit/debit cards are the best means of accessing money, you should also have some US cash as a backup in case card authorization is denied, poor computer connections or other problems.
We recommend that you advise your bank/credit card company of your trip as most companies have security stop measures that are automatically triggered by foreign withdrawals.
Most banks and bureaux de change will cash travellers’ cheques for between 1%-3% commission. Travellers’ cheques in US dollars are preferred, with Amex being the easiest to replace if lost or stolen.
Try not to leave the country with many excess colónes; it’s difficult to buy back more than US$50 at the border or airport.